GABRIEL, a Honiara writer, submitted a letter to the Editor of the Solomon Star newspaper, in which he claimed, “It is my considered view that the national budget (2015) being debated at the moment is a budget to continue funding corruption which is rampant nationally.”
In a sovereign country like the Solomon Islands and with a free press the writer’s views gained local attention and instant international notice once the letter was published.
Without detailing the full extent of the comments made in the letter, the main focus, if refined down to basics, was the alleged misuse of Rural Constituency Development Funds (RCDF) and the alleged lack of measures in the budget to properly control the funds.
As I write from outside the Solomon Islands, I do not pretend to know all that I should about the issues surrounding the constant allegations relating to the misuse of the RCDF funds by politicians but my present understanding, subject to correction, are the RCDF stems from money received annually from the Government of the Republic of China (ROC).
I can only rely on a statement made, some few years ago, by the late Fred Fono who was then the Deputy Prime Minister, and I quote, “It is unfortunate that people seem to think that RCDF funds are paid directly to the MPs own personal accounts. ”Funds have never been paid into the personal accounts of members of Parliament.
“Funds are usually paid to the Ministry of Rural Development, which then pays the money into the bank accounts of each of the 50 constituencies.”
“The signatories to the accounts are the members of Parliament and their constituency committees.
“The Cabinet has passed guidelines for MPs to expend and account for how they use RCDF money, millennium funds and micro-project funds. It is up to individual MPs to be transparent and accountable by producing reports on how they use ROC funds.
“It is pointless for people to raise complaints about such issues in the media when they can obtain from the Ministry a copy of the acquittal reports of their constituency funds. “It is not true to say all MPs are corrupt, and have not been putting RCDF and other ROC money to good use.”
I guess what was missing as a direct quote at the time was an acknowledgment that not all MPs are consistent in reporting the retirement of their allocated funds. As a consequence, therefore, people like Gabriel speak up when there is little or nothing to show in terms of constituency development.
It is my current understanding that Transparency Solomon Islands has launched a new project “Constituency Development Funds Community Audit in the Solomon Islands”, funded by the United Nations Democracy Fund. Here, again, I quote from a recent press release about the project by TSI.
“CDF Community Audit project aims to assist Solomon Islanders in building an inclusive and empowered society where citizens are able to get access to information and to participate in community development.
“Further to that it will also helps to empower communities to demand more accountability from their leaders when administering CDF.
“The project will be achieved through a community level advocacy project that will visit each of the 50 constituencies over a two year period.
“All constituents from 50 constituencies are encouraged to cooperate to ensure that the project is successfully implemented as it will benefit the 80 percent living in the rural communities.
“Members of Parliament alike should also ensure that CDFs funds is spend appropriately
“This should send a strong message to all current members of Parliament that if they used CDF money corruptly they will be easily get caught as the project aims to ensure that there is transparent use of CDFs and people take actions against.
“There will be networks of committees set up in the rural communities and for these two years their role is to ensure what is intended for them is well received and that if there is evidence of misuse of public funds, communities take actions at the same time.
“During the visits participants will learn about the intended purposes of CDFs, the development status of CDFs, the rules that govern the system and what they can do to help their representatives make sure this money is spent effectively and appropriately.
“Also this project will question the effectiveness of CDF in the rural area and documented it to verify if there is tangible existence of the projects in the rural areas or not”
Perhaps, the writer from Honiara had missed this important development and will lend support towards its aims and objectives.
The TSI project precedes the DCC government’s proposed policy of instituting and empowering an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and the specific policy framework is awaited with much anticipation.
Creating an ICAC is no easy task while being mindful of the cultural differences and perceptions of what constitutes “corruption” in Melanesia, as opposed to how it is defined in the West.
The generally accepted Western definition, as defined by Transparency International is this –
“CORRUPTION is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain; it hurts everyone who depends on the integrity of people in positions of authority.”
From a study of anti-corruption measures in place in Ethiopia in East Africa during 2000, I came across some interesting commentary on how corruption occurs on different scales and I quote.
“There is corruption that occurs as small favors between a small number of people (petty corruption), corruption that affects the government on a large scale (grand corruption), and corruption that is so prevalent that it is part of the everyday structure of society, including corruption as one of the symptoms of organized crime (systemic corruption).
“Petty corruption occurs at a smaller scale and within established social frameworks and governing norms. Examples include the exchange of small improper gifts or use of personal connections to obtain favours. This form of corruption is particularly common in developing countries and where public servants are significantly underpaid.
“Grand corruption is defined as corruption occurring at the highest levels of government in a way that requires significant subversion of the political, legal and economic systems. Such corruption is commonly found in countries with authoritarian or dictatorial governments but also in those without adequate policing of corruption.
“The government system in many countries is divided into the legislative, executive and judiciary branches in an attempt to provide independent services that are less prone to corruption due to their independence.
“Systemic corruption (or endemic corruption) is corruption which is primarily due to the weaknesses of an organization or process. It can be contrasted with individual officials or agents who act corruptly within the system.
“Factors which encourage systemic corruption include conflicting incentives, discretionary powers; monopolistic powers; lack of transparency; low pay; and a culture of impunity Specific acts of corruption include “bribery, extortion, and embezzlement” in a system where “corruption becomes the rule rather than the exception.
“Corruption can occur in different sectors, whether they be public or private industry or even NGOs.
“Public sector corruption includes corruption of the political process and of government agencies such as the police as well as corruption in processes of allocating public funds for contracts, grants, and hiring. Recent research by the World Bank suggests that who makes policy decisions (elected officials or bureaucrats) can be critical in determining the level of corruption because of the incentives different policy-makers face.”
I will leave you, the reader, to place where corruption is most seen occurring in the Solomon Islands.
How is corruption measured and evaluated? Here we look to Transparency International again for guidance.
‘Transparency International, a worldwide organization, primarily uses surveys and assessments conducted by outside institutions or organizations that are believed to be reputable. Surveys typically include questions regarding the public’s perception of the trustworthiness of the government. This information is combined with assessments that are conducted to determine how transparent a government is and how seriously it seems to take corruption in general. In most cases, the incidences of corruption that are brought to light are not factored into a specific country’s ranking. This is because the laws regarding journalism, freedom of speech, and the access that citizens have to information vary greatly by location.
Transparency International requires that three separate sources of information be available for a country in order for it to be included in the ranking. Compiled annually, the countries incorporated on the Corruption Perception Index vary every year depending on the available information. Although the report is generated every year, a single country’s ranking cannot typically be compared to previous years to indicate whether there has been a change in actual corruption. Typically, only the public’s perception of corruption can be compared.
A scale of one to ten is used to rank each country in the Corruption Perception Index. A ranking of one indicates that the public believes that the government is highly corrupt, and a ranking of 10 indicates that a government is believed to be “highly clean,” or not at all corrupt. When there is not enough data available for a ranking to be assigned, a country is give a zero or left off of the Corruption Perception Index entirely. “
I do not have the latest Corruption Perception Index figures in relation to the Solomon Islands, but according to the current report reflected in the online publication countryeconomy.com the information about the Solomon Islands reads, “If the reason to visit Solomon Islands are business, you must know it’s in the 87th of the Doing Business ranking , which provides objective measures of business regulations for local firms.”
Solomon Islands Ranking.
A ranking of just 87 for a country in which to do business in 2015 must indicate something amiss and a good bet is the perceived corruption level the country attracts. It is little wonder, therefore, why the DCC Government is striving for an anti corruption policy for its citizens.
When recalling the words spoken by Graeme Wilson, RAMSI’s Special Coordinator in 2010, as he officially opened the office of the Leadership Code Commission and the Ombudsman, he said about the work of the two bodies, “You have a key role to play in ensuring that government leaders are answerable for their behaviour, in investigating and reporting on the actions and practices of government, and in fostering accountable, lawful, fair, transparent and responsive administration.”
The same must be true of the work of an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
The Birth of an ICAC in Hong Kong
Hong Kong was about the first place to start an ICAC in 1974 and, knowing Hong Kong very well, having spent considerable time there in the British military and then in the Special Branch of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force, I can say with confidence since the inception of the organization Hong Kong has become one of the cleanest, corruption free, places in the world.
Public anger over the levels of alleged corruption was nearing boiling point in 1972 when I left the former Colony to take over as the Chief of Police on the island of St Helena. The issue had become a real social problem
The pot boiled over, so to say, when a Chief Superintendent in the RHKPF was accused of accruing a vast sum of money by taking bribes. He escaped the island before he could be brought to justice which only added to the public outcry for the creation of anti-corruption legislation and the establishment of an ICAC.
In mounting a response the Hong Kong Government was quick to take action. Sir Alastair Blair-Kerr, a senior Puisne Judge, was appointed to form a Commission of Inquiry into the Chief Superintendent’s escape. The Commission of Inquiry led to the conclusion that if the Government was really serious of the intention to fight corruption a body separate from the Police had to be created.
With the creation of the ICAC, the police officer was found, deported back to Hong Kong and sentenced to four years imprisonment on a series of corruption charges.
In the intervening years since 1974, the Hong Kong ICAC has developed many strategies to bring those committing corrupt acts to justice, no matter their rank or status.
The Hong Kong ICAC has won local and international acclaim and a body that the Solomon Islands Government could well follow as a role model in the development of its own ICAC.
Checks and Balances
In terms of checks and balances to ensure the effectiveness and integrity of the Hong Kong ICAC there are several ways this is achieved by the introduction of Reporting and Advisory Committees, including-
Advisory Committee on Corruption
Operations Review Committee
Corruption Prevention Committee, and a
Citizens Advisory Committee on Community Relations.
The respective committees comprise of prominent citizens appointed by the Chief Executive of Hong Kong to oversee the work of the ICAC. All four of the advisory committees are chaired by civilian members.
The Hong Kong ICAC has further measures to ensure checks and balances, including the publication of annual reports.
If all that I have outlined in depth in this article results in early anti-corruption measures in the Solomon Islands it will go a long way, I feel confident, in mitigating, if not totally stopping the criticism of governments policies so far. Importantly, too, once a local ICAC, aided by TSI and further supported by the efforts of the Leadership Code Commission (LCC) and the office of the Ombudsman, begins to take strong enforcement action and gets results, investor confidence will rebound.
Finally, to Gabriel out there in Honiara, there will be a means for you and other citizens to help oversee the local ICAC if the Hong Kong model is adopted. I believe us all now look forward to the DCC Government’s policy framework being unveiled to assure, including potential foreign investors, that change for the good is imminent and the fight against corruption will be sustained.
For further reading about investigating and prosecuting cases of corruption read my article on the subject published under the column ‘Opinions’ in the online version of Solomon Times Online.
By FRANK SHORT
Former police commissioner